Preclusive Effect of TTAB Decisions: Always, sometimes, or never?
Last week a divided Eighth Circuit panel affirmed a district court’s conclusion that a TTAB decision would not be given preclusive effect in B&B Hardware, Inc. v. Hargis Industries, Inc. The court reasoned that preclusion was inappropriate because the TTAB decided different likelihood-of-confusion issues that those that were before the district court.
The dissenting judge disagreed that the TTAB’s likelihood-of-confusion analysis was truly different from the district court’s analysis, writing that “[m]odest differences in analytical approach to the same ultimate issue, however, do not justify dispensing with collateral estoppel.”
Some commentators have suggested there is now a circuit split regarding the preclusive effect of TTAB decisions. Perhaps there is, but the opinion was careful to avoid holding that TTAB decisions could never be preclusive. Consider these excerpts:
- “The element at issue in this case is the second one—whether the issue sought to be precluded is the same as the issue involved in the prior action. It was not here, and thus the district court properly declined to apply issue preclusion in these circumstances.”
- “[A]pplication of issue preclusion in this case is not appropriate, as the TTAB in denying registration did not decide the same likelihood-of-confusion issues presented to the district court in this infringement action.”
- “Because the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board previously decided the same question about likelihood of confusion that was at issue in the trial of this case, Hargis Industries should not have been permitted to relitigate that point.” (Colloton, J. dissenting)